Construction waste as firewood

We’ve talked about burning cut pallets before, but what about construction waste? As always, we’ve got you covered.

Dear Don’t Move Firewood,

I work in construction and have access to large amounts of processed construction lumber fall off. Is it ok to bring some of that wood for campfires as it is no longer a tree in its natural form?

Yours, Mark

Dear Mark,

There is sometimes a gap between a regulation, and every single possible thing that could apply to that regulation. Your question is regarding “processed construction lumber fall off,” so what I’m envisioning is the little clean dry bark-free segments of 2×4 or similar dimensional lumber that get trimmed off so that the whole piece is the correct length. If that’s right, then this sort of wood product presents a very minimal risk to tree health, and it would be OK in theory to use it for camping. However- and this is a BIG however- this sort of wood may still be either under regulation in your state, or may be turned away at the campground gate. The first thing- that it may be under regulation- is because the definition of untreated firewood varies a bit, and these scraps could be included. It isn’t because they are the same, it is because of what I first said- the gap between a regulation and every single possible type of burnable wood product. Then, the second part is the campground issue. Some campgrounds will not permit the burning of scraps, pallets, or other construction types of wood. This is generally for worker safety, for fear of chemicals like arsenic, or sharp brackets that could be released in burning and cause injuries for maintenance workers.

But this is untreated wood, you protest! And it doesn’t have nails or brackets! I know, but just because yours is clean and safe doesn’t mean everyone’s is.

Anyway, the point that I’m getting at is that processed lumber scrap is fine to burn in theory, but in practice it still may be forbidden in some areas, and in some campgrounds. I would advise checking with local regulations and calling ahead to the campgrounds. A little time on the phone can go a long way.

Why do we allow campfires in the first place?

A tough question came into the advice column inbox about a month ago, and I've been pondering it ever since.


Dear Don't Move FIrewood,

What is the reason for allowing campfires in the first place?

1. On the west side of the Columbia River in Washington State they allow fires in the forests.  The forests burn up due to fires.  On the east side of the Columbia in Douglas County fires are NOT allowed.

2. Campfires make pollution and breathing in campground HORRIBLE at times.

If people are serious about climate change ending campfires would bring the topic home and wake people up.  Plus the bugs would not travel in firewood hauled around.

Thanks in advance,



Dear Tom,

To start off, your very first question is the easiest. Campfires are not always allowed at all campgrounds and forests, because sometimes they do create unacceptable risks. When these risks (like forest fires) are well understood by the public, then the regulation to not allow fires is usually fairly well respected. But when the risks aren't well understood by the public (like forest pests) or aren't well accepted by a wide range of the public (like contributing to climate change), the regulation will only serve to encourage rule-breaking and essentially create even more unacceptable behavior, such as creating illegal fire rings outside the boundary of the campground. So the reason for allowing campfires in the first place, usually, is that there is no persuasive, fair, or compelling reason to prohibit them.


I agree that campfires create pollution, especially when people burn wet wood or during certain weather patterns. That's a great argument for occasionally banning campfires, when appropriate. Again, that'd be understood by the public, so it would be likely to be respected.


But I'm going to disagree with the ideas you've got at the end of your letter. I don't think acceptance of the issue of climate change is going to be furthered by antagonizing typical campers. Here at Don't Move Firewood, we draw a pretty bold line in the sand between the act of having a campfire, or having a wood stove, or even just burning wood as a concept, and the threat of forest pests. The spread of forest pests is caused primarily by bad practices and bad decisions- NOT by the campfire itself, or the wood stove, or whatever method is used to burn wood. We believe that education and cooperation is the key to success over time.




Salvage logging after emerald ash borer?

Invasive forest pests come in all different types- fungi, bacteria, beetles, aphids- and all the pests we talk about are united in the fact that they will eventually kill the tree they are infesting. But what happens next? What can you do with all that standing dead timber?


Dear Don't Move Firewood,

I have a question about the Emerald Ash Borer. What about these loggers who go in and buy up trees in your woods?  If you have a lot of ash trees can they buy up those trees for the wood?




Dear Margaret,

Yes, in many cases, you could use a properly certified and permitted private logging operation to cut down the trees and use them for various purposes. In a quarantined area (whether a region, zone, or state) you'd have to be extremely careful to ensure that they have a compliance certificate or other legal documentation showing that their plans for cutting and moving the wood was legal and appropriate. But with proper precautions and paperwork in place, you'd be set to go. For instance, if you lived in an area with lots of ash trees, and there was a firewood producer with a kiln that meets federal certifications, you could even use it to make kiln dried firewood! Across the continent, wood harvested from areas with forest pests is used for lots of things; firewood, pellets, chips, log home timbers, and more. It is just a matter of taking the time and precautions to make sure you are doing it right, and not spreading forest pests.


Thanks for asking.

Yes! You’ve got it!

Ready for the best email we've gotten in weeks? Maybe months?


Dear Don't Move Firewood,

Please clarify for me – if I live in Snohomish county, it's best to get my firewood in Snohomish county? Also, I should not bring this firewood to a campsite out of my county? Thank you!


Kathryn in Washington


Dear Kathryn-

Yes! That's exactly right. Exactly!


I bet you didn't know that the Viburnum Leaf Beetle, a major pest originally from Europe, is found in your county. And not knowing that is fine. It actually completely supports the idea that you and everyone else in the world doesn't need to know about each pest, each infestation, and each type of affected tree and shrub. You just need to know EXACTLY what you've said in your email- that wood should be burned near its origin, preferably never leaving the county or nearby region. Ideally, firewood and other untreated wood products should travel under 50 miles- and better closer to 25 or 10 miles whenever feasible. 


Other insects like the Brown Marmorated Stink Bug are found in the Pacific Northwest, and can hitchhike in firewood or brush. And have you heard of Sudden Oak Death? It is a really bad tree killer, found around Northern California and limited areas of Southern Oregon. You certainly wouldn't want to risk spreading that by buying untreated (and likely illegally transported) firewood from that region. But you don't need to know about these things, really. Just stick to the basics- exotic and damaging beetles, diseases, stink bugs… they can spread on firewood, unseen, unknown. So buy it where you burn it, and thanks for writing in!